After fall camp session #15, a day when the USC campus was buzzing for move-in day, there seemed to be a good energy for the team as they push through the dog days of practice with help from the Trojan Marching Band, who provided the background music from the end zone for part of practice.
There was an added bonus awaiting the players too, as Clay Helton brought out placekicker Michael Brown for a 32-yard attempt at the end of the day with the rest of the team surrounding him and a night off from meetings on the line. Brown hit it through the uprights, the players cheered, and Helton delivered on his promise.
“We put Michael Brown under a little pressure to make a field goal and give the guys the night off from meetings,” Helton said. “They’ve been grinding for 15 days straight from daylight to dark, and to get the night off from meetings, I know the guys are happy he made that field goal.”
In the regular placekicking portion of practice we saw Brown go 6-7 and McGrath was 3-5 with one of the misses coming after a bad snap. Both kickers missed from the longest attempt which was 39 yards.
“I’m really hoping to solidify one of the kickers, and give him the confidence going into the games, and having won the job, let him illustrate that he can do it in real live games,” Helton said. “We always say we’ll do what’s best for our team in the moment, and we’ll pick the guy that’s best for our first game and see where that’s at.
There was a lot of work on execution in the overtime period, and we saw plenty of the first unit offensive line that is expected to be named in the depth chart that will be released this weekend, with Toa (LT), Brown (RG), Falah (C), Viane (RG) and Chuma (RT).
The best play I saw made came from Jamel Cook, who made a one-handed interception as he was going out of bounds in an early 7-on-7 period. While the 7-on-7 period was going on at the far end of the field, Helton was throwing balls to Daniel Imatorbhebhe on the other end. Imatorbhebhe didn’t return to live drills yet but this is the 2nd day in a row he’s gotten some work.
One of the things we haven’t seen in camp is Jackie Jones on offense. Helton said Jackie has a great opportunity to be the starting corner and kick returner so he will focus on those areas. Helton said there could be a role for Jackie on offense against certain opponents, and then said he didn’t want to give away any game plans. He also said Jackie and Velus Jones (along with Ajene) have separated themselves as far as the potential return guys.
“They’ve really separated themselves from everybody else right now, one, in just making the catch first off, but what they’re doing in Coach [John] Baxter’s drills of making the first man
miss and then exploding, I’ve been impressed with each one of them,” Helton said. “We’re going to have some live kick situations this Saturday to kind of see where they’re at. Had it last Saturday – it was not great. We can do better. I’m looking forward to watching them again on Saturday. But they’ve kind of separated themselves from the pack. We were so fortunate with Adoree’ [Jackson]. You know that kickoff return skill-set is so much different than the punt return. On punt return you make the first man miss and explode, where kickoff return is just fearless. I mean, you catch it, you go, you make one cut, there’s no stutter step, and it’s kind of a different technique, and some guys have got it, and some guys don’t. We may have to establish one guy as the kickoff returner because that’s where he’s best at, and then another guy as the punt returner. They may not be both like Adoree’ last year, so we’ll see where we’re at here in about a week or so.”
There was on punt coverage drill today with the players looking to down the ball near the goal line. Jackie was a gunner on the play, he put himself in great position along the goal line as the ball was coming down but he let it bounce and it got away from him into the end zone. It was the type of consistency play that the coaches are looking for from Jackie to take that “next step”.
Dominic Davis was the last player off the field as he worked on fielding punts.
Helton injury update
“Injury-wise, we got good news on Andrew Vorhees. It does not look like his back is anything significant – should be day-to-day. Je’Quari Godfrey had a little bit of a quad today so we pulled him early. Ced Ware had a little bit of a hamstring. We pulled him a little bit early. Greg Johnson is very close to being cleared from his shoulder. And Kenny [Bigelow] we just pulled for a little bit of knee soreness, but he should be day-to-day. Michael Pittman is an ankle sprain – probably going to take a couple weeks to get back. We’ll see. It’s a significant one. I don’t think it’s a day-to-day. I think it’s going to take a couple weeks. Velus Jones is day-to-day. Velus has just a sore foot. He may have run six miles a day out here for the past three weeks, and he just needed a day off, has a little bit of a sore foot from that scrimmage yesterday, so he’ll probably take the next couple days. We’ll see where he’s at Saturday. If he’s not feeling great, we’ll probably save him for next week.”
Michael Pittman was on a scooter during practice, while Velus had a boot on his left foot.
“Go enjoy tonight with your family” – Helton yelled to Brandon Pili as the freshman walked off the field to his family members waiting on the sideline.
More quotes from Helton on Trojan linebackers
Does it seem like Cameron Smith is moving better this camp?
“Yeah, I think once you get a year off of that knee surgery, the confidence that he played with last year, and if you look at him right now, he is really…I mean he’s holding a 245-pound frame, but he is cut from top to bottom. I actually told him the other day he looks like he’s in the best shape I’ve seen him in since I’ve been here, and that’s a lot of credit to Ivan [Lewis] and his staff, and a lot of credit to him with the summer work that he’s done. He just looks very confident in space right now.”
Do Smith and John Houston give you a lot of speed on the inside?
“Yeah, and I keep on saying Jordan [Iosefa] too. Those three guys, along with Levi [Jones], I think that the athleticism right now at that inside linebacker position is shining”
What is Porter Gustin like away from the field?
“He’s still playing football. I don ‘t think he ever changes. He’s a daylight-until-dark player in my opinion. A student of the game, is relentless in taking care of his body, taking care of becoming the best player that he can be. And his routine starts about 5 a.m. in the morning and sometimes goes all through the night. Especially during this camp time, he works just as hard as the coach that is in that building, just as much as us, preparing for the upcoming season.”
Do you see him working in the weight room in the middle of the night?
“He’s one of the first ones in the building, and he works a lot with our training staff on preventative [exercises], whether it’s ankle strengthening, whether it’s flexibility – he truly believes in taking care of himself from top to bottom. Watching extra tape – he puts in the hours to try to be a great player, and obviously it’s paying off for him on the field.”
Has Gustin’s mindset rubbed off on the players around him?
“Yeah, you know what I think has rubbed off, and it’s really him and Uchenna [Nwosu], is just their personality on the field. I mean their physicality, their work ethic, their attitude that they bring to the game – I think really has rubbed off on the defense this entire camp. It’s something that I was hoping would happen. You know, when you lose Stevie T – he kind of gave us that ‘it’ factor in that front-four last year – and now these two guys are doing the same thing this year for us, so hopefully it will carry over into the season.”
– Garry Paskwietz and Johnny Curren